Trumping Conservatism

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The smackdown over Donald Trump has been remarkable, and it looks like a robust debate is emerging as Wisconsinites realize we’ll actually have a voice in the nominating process next spring.

Right Wisconsin in particular has been a battleground over Trump in the past few days. From the Savvy Pundit to Rick Esenberg to Charlie Sykes himself, opinions of the bombastic billionaire run the gamut.

Trump is relatively strong in Wisconsin. A Marquette poll in November showed him tied for second place with Sen. Marco Rubio, both with 19 percent. In that poll, Carson was on top with 22 percent, but if Carson sees a similar slide in Wisconsin as he has in Iowa, frontrunners like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio will likely benefit.

Republican leaders in Wisconsin have largely lined up behind Rubio. I also suggested upon Gov. Walker’s withdrawal from the race that much of his infrastructure would go to Rubio’s benefit. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and 19 other state legislators were quick to endorse Rubio following Walker’s exit, with several actively working on his behalf.

But Trump appears to remain relatively strong, forcing conservative activists to make a choice. The choice isn’t just whom to support, but which ideological direction the GOP and conservatism itself will take.

The choice writ large is a possible inflection point for the conservatism of modern times, which is a strong scaffolding built over the past 60-plus years from the ashes of classical liberalism. Efforts by thinkers and leaders from Goldwater to Buckley to Friedman to Reagan has built that scaffolding plank-by-plank since even before Buckley founded The National Review in 1955. In many ways, the electoral culmination of the work of the aforementioned visionaries was Reagan’s presidency.

Reagan embodied both the ideal of conservative style and substance, and Americans made their preference very clear – twice.

The choice now is whether to rip down that scaffolding.

Donald Trump presents coarse, low-context, unintellectual, tough-sounding, monosyllabic promises fit for the age of Twitter, in which kibbles and bits are fed to shallow people yearning to be entertained. A reality TV star from New York, Trump is the anti-Reagan.

The two are similar only in the age at which they’d take the oath of office: Reagan was age 69 when he took the oath; Trump is currently age 69 and will be 70 at the time next fall’s general election.

Or conservatives can pick some other candidate and continue building on the intellectual scaffolding that’s guided serious conservatives for decades. In that respect, any candidate would be better than Trump. Politically speaking, Rubio is among the best bets against Hillary.

I’ve contended Rubio could, in fact, defeat Hillary in a near-landslide if he’s the nominee, but that’s just the hunch of an armchair politico.

Unlike previous elections that were stitched up long before the Badger State went to the polls, it’s likely Wisconsin will still be in play when we vote on April 5 – and that Wisconsin voters will still have plenty of choices. In particular, Trump, Cruz, and Rubio are unlikely to fade before April.

Wisconsin will, in fact, have an impact on the course of the election if the field remains clogged following Super Tuesday and subsequent state primaries, which is likely. Ours is the only primary between March 22 and April 19, an eternity in political years, and Wisconsin alone holds a primary that day, so all eyes will be on the home state of the new Speaker of the House and a former heavyweight presidential contender.

Armchair conservatives who still think it’s too early to decide on a candidate are wrong – we now have four months left. Four months ago, Scott Walker was still a strong candidate. In politics, minutes can seem like hours, and hours can seem like days.

Now’s the time for conservatives in Wisconsin to reflect on who they’ll support, both at the polls, in discussions with family and friends, in opinion pages, and of course on social media.

Grassroots conservatives hold sway over their own respective circles of less-plugged-in voters. For conservatives who oppose the nomination of Donald Trump, deciding on an alternative now and evangelizing on his or her behalf could be a difference maker considering The Donald’s dominance of mainstream media coverage.

Few conservatives would advocate allowing the mainstream media’s editorial decisions to dictate the GOP nomination.

So for those in the conservative grassroots interested in the future of their party and ideology, nows the time to gear up and take the field.

About the writer: Chris Rochester is editor in chief of Morning Martini. He’s a communication specialist with experience in the private sector and on various campaigns. He's the communications director for the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy. Commentary here is strictly his own.
  • WiscoJoe

    Live by the ‘southern strategy,’ die by the ‘southern strategy.’

    It would be great if serious conservatives actually started to stand up to this level of politics, but after enabling it and profiting off of it for 40+ years, I don’t expect anyone to suddenly grow a spine and take personal responsibility for what the party has devolved into.